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Lubbock police train special mental health officers

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal - 11/5/2017

Nov. 05--EDITOR'S NOTE -- This is day two of a two-day series on suicide and its impact, teen suicide and police response to suicide calls.

A month after Lubbock police responded to a suicidal male on Texas Tech campus, two officers were awarded the department's Life Saving award.

During the early morning hours of Sept. 13, Lubbock police officers Thomas Thompson and Jarred Dalton knew they had to make a connection with an 18-year-old Hispanic male who was threatening to jump after he reportedly climbed scaffolding on the Texas Tech campus and was threatening to end his life.

Thompson and Dalton are Mental Health Officers with the Lubbock Police Department. Currently, about 15 mental health officers also serve as the department's negotiators.

e male -- who was more than 30 feet high -- paced back and forth on three feet of ledge. Thompson and Dalton knew they had to intervene in a cautious and timely manner.

To become Mental Health Officers, Dalton and Thompson completed a week-long course where they got a brief overview of mental disorders, how to deal with those suffering from mental illness and what resources available to to receive treatment.

While the negotiators are required to take the course, Dalton said they all have a heart for the work and want to assist those in dire need of a helping hand.

Members of the team also have other duties within the department, which can also be beneficial with their two-week, on-call rotations.

The demand for these officers are high. Last year, on-duty officers responded to an estimated 2,600 suicidal subject calls, according to Officer Kimberlee Crain.

Crain -- who also serves as the LPD Crisis Intervention Team coordinator -- says their role is to provide some relief to patrol officers.

"This is just a little bit of something that we try to help out with," she said. "While they're trained to deal with it, it shouldn't necessarily be the job of the patrol officer, but it falls on the patrol officer, and if we can alleviate that a little bit then that's definitely something that we try to do for them."

Dalton said he tries to lend his assistance to mental-health-related calls while on patrol -- which is what prompted officers to step into action on the Tech campus on that night.

LPD received word of a man who was possibly on narcotics and had left the hospital after being admitted; the IV was still in his arm.

Dalton, who was on patrol, said a supervisor notified him and Thompson of the situation and they arrived on scene after 1 a.m., where they found the man, who appeared to be suffering from hallucinations.

Other members of the team went to work to find out information on the man. With the help of LPD Officer Tye Edwards, the officers were able to identify him and continued to work to develop rapport -- a task that took more than an hour.

As other first responders arrived on scene, the two could see the man's condition was worsening and he was turning his paranoia toward Thompson.

They talked with him about tattoos and sports, finally connecting with him by speaking about a beloved family member.

Dr. Andy Young, who has been with the team for about 17 years, said making that connection is critical in life-or-death situations.

"One of the things that we're looking for are things that are important to him," he said. "Things that might help us gain some traction, and try to motivate him to do the right thing.On the flip side of that are things that we want to avoid, things that might make him angry and agitated."

Once that bond was created, the men were able to successfully reach him with the help of Lubbock Fire Rescue crews as they manned a bucket on an engine and brought him down to safety.

Detective David Schrieber, who was also on scene and assisted, said he hopes this new asset to the department changes the public's view on policing and mental health.

He said it is important for people to know that calling for help doesn't equate jail time as they can connect people to the appropriate resources for the situation on hand.

"Everyone is going to have a bad day," he said, "and you're just dealing with that person on their bad day. It's just a bad day, we're going to get through it and you're going to be fine."

After being on the team for more than a decade, Young said he is excited to be working alongside well-trained individuals as their experience grows with each call.

Over time, Thompson said, people's views on mental health are starting to change and as a team they are working to help expedite that process.

"I think as our society becomes more aware of how many people struggle with mental health issues," he said, "it can be overwhelming to look at the numbers, but realize they're all people. This could be your family member, this could be your loved one, a friend, a coworker.

"Anyone can experience crisis, and so it's nice to know that we have the training the willingness to say, 'You're a human being, just like me. We just want to help you.'"


(c)2017 the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (Lubbock, Texas)

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